4 ways to turn grief into positive action

Some bereaved use actions instead of emotions to grieve and to turn grief into positive effects. These stories may inspire you to do similarly as you’re coping with grief.

No two people grieve the same way. Emotion-driven activities — speaking or writing feelings, attending grief support meetings, crying, and recalling memories — are usually considered healthy ways to work through the five stages of grief. “But research reveals that grieving needn’t be emotion-oriented in order to be healthy and productive. Healthy grieving can also be activity-oriented,” writes Deborah Davis, development psychologist, for Psychology Today.

How to apply 5 stages of grief to your grieving process

Activity-oriented grievers are more inclined to assess and act in the face of adversity, says Davis. If you’re activity-oriented, your grief may make you feel restless and leave you looking for ways to expend energy. This may be through exercise, getting back to work, or doing chores around the house — tasks that take the focus off your emotions. If you’re worrying if your process is OK, Davis says yes, it just means you excel at moderating the amount of pain you experience versus feeling it all at once, like emotion-oriented grievers.

Davis says most people are a combination of activity- and emotion-oriented grievers. They benefit from engaging in meaningful activity and tend to turn grief into positive actions. Often, they pay tribute to their loved ones while helping others — making something good come out of their grief.

Making good from grief

Two Harvard Business School colleagues, Augusto Failde and May Chao, were able to turn their grief into positive action. Both had suffered the loss of their moms, and neither had found the help they needed in grief books, articles, or online sources. This prompted their journey together to understand how others manage the pain of loss. They uncovered 288 real-life stories of encouragement that they published in their book, “Good from Grief.” Their activity-oriented grief created a resource that now helps others cope with loss. These stories in their book may inspire you to also make good from grief:

1. Inspiring others

Louise Page didn’t let her bone cancer define her, even after learning it was terminal. It was evident in the 16 essays she penned about her circumstances. Her outlook was that her illness and its treatment shouldn’t be feared but faced head on. Her husband, Alan, though dealing with his grief, saw the optimism in her writing and created a blog titled, “Lou’s Story.” The website served as an outlet for Alan’s sorrow while honoring Louise. It has also provided inspiration for thousands of others fighting their own cancer battles.

Grief books and blogs for coping with loss

2. Using talents to provide comfort

One year after meeting Zoe at summer camp, 12-year-old Gabby learned that her fellow camper tragically passed in a boating accident. To process her grief, Gabby created a quilt that showcased their common interests and gave it to her friend’s parents to provide them comfort. The experience prompted Gabby to continue sewing personalized quilts, and at the time when “Good from Grief” was written, she had made and gifted 30 more.

3. Creating initiatives in memoriam

Karen Beasley was passionate about sea turtles and had made it her mission to protect them. When she lost her battle with leukemia at age 29, her mom, Jean, continued her efforts. She built a sea turtle hospital in her daughter’s name — the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center — where more than 300 turtles have recovered and been returned to their homes.
Another mother, Betsy Reed Shultz, lost her only child, Joseph, an Army Green Beret Capt., to a bomb in Afghanistan. She repurposed her bed and breakfast into the Captain Joseph House Foundation to assist families of military personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

4. Generating awareness

A grieving woman named Megan lost her father to a car accident caused by a texting driver. She channeled her grief into contributing to Herzog Plumbs short film, “From One Second to the Next,” that shows the effects texting while driving has on everyone involved. Although it is meant to prevent future accidents, the video gave meaning to Megan’s father’s death and helped her cope with her grief.
After her 13-year-old nephew drowned, an aunt started sponsoring a free program that equips 6- to 14-year-old children with basic swimming and water survival skills. Although she admits turning grief into positive action hasn’t extinguished her heartache, she recognizes the impact the initiative has in potentially saving others’ lives, while also honoring her nephew.
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Photo credit: iStock

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